A chief operating officer (COO) is typically considered a company’s second-in-command executive under the chief executive officer (CEO), and functions as a manager for all high-level operations. Fahad Shoukat, the COO of Skiplist, describes the position as the “Swiss Army knife” of business, carrying out the CEO’s vision and directives in daily practice. In larger establishments, COOs also fine-tune business processes for maximum efficiency.
The road to becoming a COO can be long and challenging, but not without great personal and financial benefits. The right educational foundation, such as a master’s in business administration, can equip aspiring COOs for success.
What Does a COO Do?
COOs oversee a business’s daily operations, making executive decisions and delegating responsibility as necessary. They must constantly analyze the efficiency of individual processes, such as in marketing, supply chain logistics, and recruitment, and find ways to improve.
They effectively act as the head of internal affairs, working closely with the CEO to make sure the corporate vision is executed on a practical level. When problems arise, the COO coordinates with department heads such as information technology or sales managers to identify the source, and then devises new procedures to better align outcomes with business goals.
If the CEO is a business’s creative head, the COO is its practical head, whose knowledge of procedures and systems brings creativity to life.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a COO?
Successful COOs exhibit a number of different competencies, including management capabilities, communication skills, and integrity.
Central to the COO’s toolkit is the ability to oversee a company’s big-picture objectives. Among many other responsibilities, this means analyzing reports to monitor company performance and determine if that trajectory lines up with the organization’s business plans and strategic goals. If it doesn’t, the COO must course-correct through executive orders that change basic operational procedures or through strategizing with department heads to optimize areas that fail to meet expectations, such as inefficiencies in manufacturing or breakdowns in customer support.
The COO is responsible for understanding the CEO’s vision and articulating that vision to the rest of the company. As such, they must be powerful communicators, as they act as the chief liaison between company leadership and the employees who are responsible for daily operations. They also represent employees to leadership. Key to communication is listening, and effective COOs meet with their employees often, understand their concerns, and bring their voices to leadership’s attention.
Ethical leadership is crucial to a business’s success or failure, and a COO must lead by example. Honesty and integrity in leadership builds trust among employees, improving morale and performance. Effective COOs are willing to ask others what could be done better, keep themselves accountable, and admit when they’ve made mistakes.
The Paths to Becoming a COO
To become a COO, an individual must have a deep knowledge of business, people management, and their industry. A COO position demands constant learning and a wealth of experience.
The path to becoming a COO varies widely from professional to professional, and no two paths are the same. Some begin with an education in business, then work their way up through management positions. Others begin with a foundation in technical expertise — data analytics or IT, for example — and transition into senior positions. Some advance to the C-suite in an established company, while others get in at the ground level with a startup.
While there is no specific educational requirement for the COO position, the right education can support the goal of getting there. After a bachelor’s, many on the path to becoming a COO pursue a master’s degree, where they can learn the foundations of business and management, and where internships and peer networks can help motivate and guide them.
Regardless, becoming a COO requires years of preparation and professional achievement.
Explore Your Business Degree Options
Though the journey to the executive level can be long, the right education can prepare you to succeed. With a curriculum featuring courses such as Organizational Behavior and Development, Business Ethics, and Global Business, Maryville University’s online Master of Business Administration program provides students with the business fundamentals that COOs rely on. Maryville’s 12 different MBA concentrations offer students the opportunity to specialize in an area such as cybersecurity, business data analytics, or health administration. Find out how Maryville University’s online MBA can help you take the first step to the C-suite.